Andrei Chikatilo was born in 1936 in Yablochnoye, a small otherwise unremarkable village in what used to be the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic or post-Cold War Ukraine. He was born into a time of great famine; the Holodomor just a few years before his birth led to the death of millions of Ukrainians. A survivor of the famine -- who was 10 years old at the time -- later said that she and her family were forced to live off grass, tree bark, roots, berries, frogs, birds, and sometimes worms. So, it's safe to say that Andrei's life was not off to the easiest start.
The son of farm workers, the family lived in a small single-room hut and made no actual money but grew food on a tiny patch of land behind their home. Similar to accounts from other Ukrainians who lived through the same time period, Chikatilo said that his family often ate leaves and grass just so they didn't starve completely.
Although there's no way such an experiment would be conducted today, researchers involved in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of 1944-1945 found that their subjects experienced social isolation, hysteria, sexual dysfunction, and self-harm urges; it would not be all that much of a stretch to wonder if Chikatilo's early years as a poor, hungry child during a tumultuous period of war led to his later crimes.
When his trial concluded in October 1992, he was found guilty of 52 murders and sentenced to death for each. 16 months later, on Valentine's Day 1994, he was executed by a single bullet to the back of his head.
15 He Believed His Brother Had Been Kidnapped And Eaten By Cannibals
The story has never been corroborated as there is no record the boy ever existed, but Andrei Chikatilo's mother Anna told him when he was five years old that his older brother Stephan had been abducted and was eaten by neighbors. She said this occurred when the brother was four years old; it is entirely possible this could have happened during the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, as cases of cannibalism -- especially of parents eating their children -- were not entirely unheard of. If a Stephan Chikatilo existed, he could have died during that period and would likely have been around 7-10 years old when Andrei was born.
"On the one hand, he found it terrible and frightening, on the other he had an unhealthy interest in it and his fantasies were all constantly concerned with it," said the police psychiatrist who interviewed Chikatilo after his arrest in regards to the story Chikatilo's mother told of his unknown brother.
14 He Removed His Victims' Body Parts With His Teeth
Andrei Chikatilo goes by many names: The Butcher of Rostov, The Forest Strip Killer, The Red Ripper, The Rostov Ripper. He has often been compared to Milwaukee cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer, though Dahmer mostly preferred adult male victims. Chikatilo is considered a cannibal, however, there is little evidence that he ate his victims' body parts in a similar fashion to Dahmer.
Although he is known as a cannibal, there is little evidence that Chikatilo actually ate -- and more importantly, enjoyed, as is the case in more infamous cannibal killers -- parts of his victims. He did, however, remove certain body parts from his victims; male victims were castrated, and some victims had their tongues ripped out. Sometimes, he used his teeth, as was the case with his second victim Larisa Tkachenko, whose nipples he bit off. "I liked to nibble on it," he said.
13 His Mom May Have Been Assaulted In Front Of Him
Because his parents were collective farm workers making no money growing food that the Ukrainian government would take and distribute around the Soviet Union, the Chikatilos lived in a modest one-room hut. OK, forget modest, it was a dump.
When the Soviets entered World War II, young Andrei's dad was drafted into the Red Army and went off to war. The Nazis occupied Ukraine in 1941 and for the next several years, the Germans took over 5 million prisoners of war, with millions more suffering from starvation or being executed at the hands of the Nazis. Andrei later described the things he'd seen in occupied Ukraine as a child as "horrors."
His mother gave birth to a baby girl in 1943, however, his dad went to war in 1941, meaning it was more likely that the child was the result of his mother being raped by a Nazi soldier. Due to their living situation, it's entirely possible that the very young Chikatilo witnessed the rape, as not only did they live in close quarters but mother and son shared a single bed.
12 He Was An Excellent Student
One of the most disturbing things you can ever learn about a serial killer is that up until a certain point in their life, they were pretty much normal. Such was the case with Andrei Chikatilo, his difficult childhood aside.
He was editor of his school newspaper at 14, and though generally considered odd and shy, his teachers tended to see him as smart. It's said that Chikatilo actually had a bit of a superiority complex and believed himself to be more intelligent than his peers.
He had hoped to study law at Moscow University but failed his entry exam. He thought part of the reason he was rejected was because of his father's embarrassing war record. Instead, he enrolled at Rostov Liberal Arts University at 35 years old and received two degrees.
11 His First Sexual Experience Was One Of Domination
It is believed that Andrei Chikatilo suffered from hydrocephalus (water on the brain) at birth, a condition which can lead to other physical issues later in life including urinary problems (he was a known bed-wetter as a child) and impotence.
He was an incredibly shy child and grew into an even shyer adolescent, partially due to the bullying he received as a result of his father being captured as a prisoner of war during World War II. Classmates said his father was a coward and he himself was embarrassed that his soldier father betrayed the communists he was fighting for, as such young Chikatilo internalized the taunting and had difficulty opening up to other children.
At 15, he playfully wrestled a young friend of his sister's into submission and quickly -- perhaps accidentally -- ejaculated. When word of this reached his classmates, he received even more taunting. He would battle impotence throughout his life.
10 He Was Impotent But Got Off On Murdering His Victims
After the humiliating experience of wrestling and then ejaculating on a young girl when he was 15, Chikatilo would continue to have difficulty getting and certainly maintaining an erection. Just before he turned 20, he started a serious relationship with a young lady and they attempted to have sex just three times, all of which were unsuccessful. They broke up after 18 months.
When he got out of the army, he met a young divorcee and once again attempted -- and failed -- to have a sexual relationship with her. She asked some of her friends how to fix this and as a result, Chikatilo was mortified to learn others were now aware of his impotence.
"Girls were going behind my back, whispering that I was impotent. I was so ashamed. I tried to hang myself. My mother and some young neighbors pulled me out of the noose. Well, I thought no one would want such a shamed man. So I had to run away from there, away from my homeland," he later said.
9 He Was A Father Of Two
Due to the fact that he struggled with impotence throughout his life, Chikatilo had difficulty consummating his marriage with wife Feodosia Odnacheva, who he married in 1963. His wife eventually accepted this fact, and the two eventually decided to try, er, manually getting her pregnant without sex. They went on to have two children; Lyudmila Chikatilo was born in 1963, while son Yuri was born in 1969.
When he committed his first murder in 1978 of a nine-year-old girl, his son would have been close in age to the girl. He continued to prey on mostly young girls and boys throughout his killing career. 36 of his 52 known victims were children between the ages of 8 and 17.
He began molesting pupils at the school at which he taught when his son was just four.
8 He Was A Schoolteacher
It is horrifying to think that Andrei Chikatilo was not only a father of two but also a schoolteacher for part of his adult life. Although he wouldn't go on to murder until his 40s, he received numerous complaints during his career as a schoolteacher for inappropriate behavior including peeping and even, in one case, attempting a sexual act on a sleeping boy.
Taking the position at 34 years old, he failed to capture the respect of his students, and it's said that this further made him feel inadequate and disrespected, a theme throughout his life. His students rebelled against his authority, mocked him, and called him "The Goose," which in Russian is basically like calling someone a jerk. It is said that this further enraged a man who already felt like less than a man due to his impotence.
7 He Assaulted At Least Two Students
It is widely believed that Chikatilo was attracted to children in particular because they are the weaker, more vulnerable, class. Children are, themselves, sexually ambiguous, something to which the impotent Chikatilo could certainly relate. Children, unlike adult romantic partners, would not judge him for having difficulty completing sex acts.
He first assaulted a student in 1973. He asked a student to stay after class, then proceeded to beat her with a ruler, which aroused him. He also groped a student in the pool, holding her down until he was able to... finish.
He was fired in 1974 after his exploits became known to the school. The incidents were kept quiet, and as such Chikatilo was able to relocate and act as though nothing ever happened.
6 He Was A Suspect In Many Murders Before He Was Actually Arrested
Easily the worst fact about the serial killing career of Andrei Chikatilo is that he was a suspect in the murder of his very first victim, nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova. He lured her away from a bus stop with bubblegum, something young children at that time in Soviet Russia rarely if ever got to enjoy, to his secret house nearby.
He wasn't the prime suspect in the murder, however, blood stains were found near his secret house. The fact that he was a husband and father and good Communist made him an unlikely candidate as the young girl's murderer, and so police did not pursue questioning.
After this close call with police, he did not kill again for two years. He would be followed and questioned by police again in 1984, by which point he'd murdered 23 people. Although he was arrested with a briefcase containing Vaseline, rope, and a knife, police let him go as he didn't fit the profile of a sexual deviant killer.
5 He Lived A Fairly Normal Life Until His 40s
Most serial killers show sadism in their younger years, sometimes mutilating or murdering family pets, or abusing classmates. Andrei Chikatilo was a shy, introverted child but lived a fairly normal life until he took his first victim in 1978 at the age of 42.
Some criminologists have suggested that Chikatilo would have started molesting and killing much earlier in his life had he lived in a Western society such as that in the United States or Canada. Pornography and violent films were not so easily accessible in the Soviet Union as they were in the West during the same time period.
At his trial in 1992, Chikatilo pulled out a full-sized pornography newspaper and waved it at the shocked courtroom, saying it was "the source of [his] troubles."
4 His First Victim Was Nine Years Old
After the body of nine-year-old Yelena Zakotnova was found in the Grushevka River in 1978, police tried and convicted a man who had earlier in his life been accused of rape. The man was executed. But before they tried the man for the crime, they also questioned schoolteacher Andrei Chikatilo.
He first met the little girl at a bus stop, which would become a favorite spot of his for seeking out victims. After luring the girl to his secret home by offering her some bubblegum, he stabbed the girl, attempted unsuccessfully to have sex with her corpse, and dumped her and her bookbag into the river.
Over the next 12 years, he killed two more 9-year-olds: Oleg Pozhidayev, his first male victim, and Aleksey Voronko, a little boy he killed while on a business trip in 1988.
3 He Removed The Eyes From Some Of His Victims
A Russian superstition says that the last sight a murder victim sees is that of their killer. Early on in his killing spree, Andrei Chikatilo frequently removed the eyes of his victims in a crude manner, stabbing at the eye sockets. He ceased this behavior for later murders, but resumed again when he realized that he didn't like his victims looking at him while they were being killed.
Some believe that this went deeper than Russian folklore; it has been suggested that Chikatilo, growing up under the oppressive thumb of Communist rule, felt a strong sense of being under the constant gaze of the Soviet state, and as such was made uncomfortable by the idea of being watched. Chikatilo himself has never made such a statement, though he did say that he believed strongly in the idea that his image would be forever imprinted on the eyes of his victims.
2 He Made A Giant And Profane Scene At His Murder Trial
In a two-hour statement to the court at his trial which began April 14, 1992, Chikatilo painted himself as a victim of circumstance, blaming his parents, the famine of his early years, and just about everything else except himself for his crimes. He said he was "robbed of his genitals" and explained how difficult it was for him to live his life as impotent both sexually and emotionally. He was, he said, powerless and weak. Through the short trial, he was caged, which made him look like an animal but instead was there to protect him from the victims' family members in the court, many of whom fainted in the room.
It appears as though Chikatilo intentionally tried to appear insane. Were he to be found criminally sane, it would have been unlikely that he would have received the death penalty. At one point, he ripped open his shirt and exposed his genitals to the court. "Look at this useless thing, what do you think I could do with that?" he shouted to the courtroom.
1 DNA Testing Failed To Incriminate Him Due To An Anomaly
When Chikatilo first began his 12-year reign of terror in 1978, you have to remember that there was no CSI back then and as such, no advanced crime lab in which to analyze evidence left at the crime scene and trace it back to the likely killer.
Chikatilo had type AB blood, however, in some cases, individuals with AB blood types may show as Type A. They would have had to take samples of his hair or sperm to discover that he was really AB.
When he was followed, investigated, and later questioned by police in 1984, he was released due to a lack of evidence. Not only did they not find a match between his blood and samples taken from the crime scenes, they figured a husband, father, and good member of the Communist party was unlikely to be the sadistic cannibal killer they were looking for.
Sources: biography.com, radford.edu, nytimes.com
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